Monday, February 16, 2015

So where do we go from here?

Daughter Micaela rocking  Buttercup

The website is complete; business cards are printed; flyers are stacked in a box; the Reds are breeding; and we are showing once again. But where do we want to go with

What are our breeding objectives?

While in college, I started dabbling with Labrador Retrievers. But I quickly became acquainted with problems inherent to the breed: Abby was a beautiful, mild mannered black show Lab, who loved to chase dummies in our lake. But when I went to have Abby’s hips x-rayed, she earned a less than satisfactory OFA evaluation, so there was no breeding. I did my research and sent away for a top field trial Lab from Oregon. I still remember the surprise when I looked in the kennel at the airport; this was a skinny, little dog. Quacker, however, loved to field trial. The dog was hyped. She would go bonkers whenever she saw the hunting gear. In the early 1980s people began to complain about how breeders had created two separate Lab breeds: the slow, show behemoth and the smaller, quicker, hyper field trial version. The AKC responded and started offering AKC sanctioned hunting tests  to make sure its show Labs possessed the retrieving instincts  and physical characteristics needed to work in the field. I thought that was a very good idea; this program promoted the whole Lab package: physical appearance, personality, and hunting instincts.

We are seeing the same split in Border Collies that happened to Labs: the stout show version, with its luxurious coat, and the lankier field trial dogs. The same problems appeared in English Setters and German Shepards. Someone’s ideal of beauty overshadowed sound breeding principles.

So what to do with the Reds? The common knock from ARBA show judges is that the Reds’ shoulders are low and backs long. One well-respected judge even bred Reds when he was younger, but moved on to other breeds because the Reds could not compete beyond the variety class. Why breed Reds if you cannot win BOB? Well, first of all I breed Reds because I like them and they taste good. According to C.P. Gilmore, they were the original domestic rabbit in the U.S. Perhaps they should be considered a heritage breed. And if they cannot compete with the other varieties of New Zealands, why not reclassify Reds as a separate breed and rename them by one of the original proposals: “California Reds”?

As I develop my breeding plan, I am cognizant that many important factors do not appear in the ARBA Standard of Perfection. Should I cull a young buck who grew very quickly, weighing 5 pounds at only seven weeks, because he had low shoulders? I did and have not produced another rabbit like him. He was also extremely friendly and he came from a line of does who were good mothers. I called him Tankasaurus because of his quick growth and massive hindquarters. He would have made a good breeding buck for producing fryers, but because of low shoulders, I sold him. I will not make this mistake again. Why? I have to define why I am breeding rabbits and create a vision in my own mind of the ideal rabbit to be produced by I like what I read at Crossroads' Rabbitry and will try to follow their recommendations on creating a sound breeding herd of meat rabbits.

First, I want Reds who exhibit the qualities conducive to being productive, healthy, and happy meat rabbits. I want the large hindquarters, for that is the section I enjoy eating the most: the rear legs. I personally do not care for the shoulder section. I also want rabbits that produce 8 kits per litter; I want the kits to be dropped in the nest box with good nest making skills and hair pulling characteristics. I want to breed lines that produce the highest total litter weight at 10 weeks of age. I like the big round heads, but must watch for any signs of malocclusion.  I want to produce the true red color, not the agouti with black tips, which some say comes from trying to improve shoulders through the introduction of the white variety. But most important to is the rocking chair test: if the rabbit isn't friendly and doesn't enjoy just sitting on my lap, as I rock back and forth, then that rabbit should be culled. I want to produce healthy, happy, meaty rabbits. I guess the shoulders will have to wait. When I get one line consistently producing: 8 kits per litter, who grow to 5 pounds quickly, with good teeth and true red color, and big heads and straight ears, and enjoy being handled, then I will start working on a second line; then work on improving the top line and shoulders. Let me know what you think.